Smart on Crime Innovations Conference panel, “Eliminating User Fees: Just and Fair Ways to Fund the Justice System”

During the 2018 Smart on Crime Innovations Conference, FFJC Co-Director Joanna Weiss participated in a panel about eliminating “user fees” in the justice system. The panel featured several experts from across the political spectrum, including San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin, the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Mary Ann Scali, and the panel was moderated by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s Juliene James.

During the panel, discussion centered around models for fee elimination including San Francisco’s elimination of discretionary fees, litigation against driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of fines and fees, discussion of the harms caused by charging fees to justice-involved youth, and how best to demonstrate the negative fiscal impacts of user fees.

You can watch the full panel video on YouTube.

  • Marc Levin: “Fees conflict with criminal justice system goals like public safety. Folks don’t show up to probation appointments because they can’t pay probation fees. Being behind on payments is a big problem in Texas, leads to revocations (and incarceration); causes perverse incentives.”
  • Jose Cisneros: “We can settle our budgets without doing it on the backs of the poor. With a collection rate of 9% [for probation fees], what’s the point?”
  • Mary Ann Scali: “Fees that affect young people are a bipartisan issue. Juvenile court judges agree: we should abolish fees and costs assessed against children in juvenile court. We can ask judges not to assess discretionary fees. We can abolish juvenile fees through legislation. We can make progress immediately.”
  • Joanna Weiss: “Why reform fines & fees? 1. They make us less safe. If police are collecting taxes, they aren’t solving violent crime. 2. Fees don’t pay, because collection is inefficient. 3. Driver’s license suspensions are counter-productive. Can’t drive? Can’t pay.”
  • Juliene James: “Fines and fees is a question of citizenship as well as economic harm. Driver’s licenses can be suspended, voting rights can be threatened — there are many possible sanctions for nonpayment.”

Related: Prof. Ebony Ruhland discusses her Community Corrections Fines and Fees study at another Smart on Crime panel (watch), which will assess the effects of fees on parolees.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Center for American Progress, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Right on Crime, San Francisco Treasurer, National Juvenile Defender Center, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Jose Cisneros, Joanna Weiss, Marc Levin, Mary Ann Scali, Juliene James